Final days for 99cents.
Callum held up the vial containing the dead woman’s Cain’s mark to the light. Around him, the crime scene techs scanned the luxury suite for fibers, hair, shoe prints, and blood stains. Middle-aged Dr. Crawford muttered into his recorder, cleaned his wire-rimmed glasses, and made notes while prepping the woman’s body to be shrink-wrapped for transport.
Head shit bird and Director of the Drugs Oversight Agency Fitzgerald rocked back on his heels. “Unless they’ve installed some new kind of scanning tech into your optics, Agent, I strongly suggest you do things the old-fashioned way.”
Fitzgerald tossed a handheld interface at Callum.
Callum caught the paperback-sized device from the sierra bravo before it crashed onto the marble floor.
“The academy did teach you how to operate the DM-21, didn’t it?”
“Of course…sir.” Callum no longer cared if the shit bird noticed the pause between his answer and the title of little respect. Spinning the interface, he slid open the compartment at the bottom. The unit powered on automatically, and he twisted off the cap of the vial holding the Cain’s mark. A quick tip of his wrist and the red data chip tumbled into the compartment.
Fitzgerald pinched the bridge of his nose. “You can touch the chip, agent. It’s not going to kill you.”
“I’m not wearing gloves…sir.” Gloves were required personal protective equipment at all crime scenes. Callum almost spouted the regulations at the sierra bravo. Since the bastard was set on firing him, he’d have to get creative.
“You think we’ll find fingerprints on that Cain’s mark?” Fitzgerald picked imaginary lint from his custom silk and wool suit.
“‘Dicts are notorious for carrying disease.” At least, that’s what Callum had been told at orientation, and why all afflicted were screened once they were accepted into Sinners’ Salvation. He shifted his wrist and the Cain’s mark twirled into the port designed especially for it. Too bad it was upside down. He tipped the interface and it slid out.
“For God’s sake, agent,” Fitzgerald growled. “There’s a stylus if you’re afraid of cooties.”
Callum’s cheeks heated at the obvious mistake a boot would make. His first day on the job reminded him of his time in boot camp. He didn’t wash out then; he wouldn’t now. Stylus in hand, he turned the Cain’s mark so the beveled end faced down then prodded it into the port. The screen of the interface glowed with a spinning wheel as it tried to connect to the chip.
Fitzgerald paced along the perimeter of the u-shaped couch, his hands behind his back.
Callum’s leg twitched in impatience. How often would the words useless, worthless, and incompetent appear on his termination notice? A mugshot of a grizzled senior citizen materialized on the screen and the interface chimed. Not even a blind man could confuse the bum with the dead hottie on the couch. So why would the dealer sell her drugs?
“Well?” Fitzgerald snapped.
“The Cain’s mark once belonged to someone else.” Callum scanned the list of aliases for the man’s real name. Johns, Jacobs, and Smiths played a significant role in the last names but his attention stuck on one. John J. Christianson. How did he know that name?
“We don’t care about the owner’s name.” Fitzgerald stomped over to Callum and jerked the interface out of his hands. “We need to know which drug caused the overdose and which dealer sold it.”
The shit bird didn’t bother with the stylus but stabbed the touch screen with a manicured finger.
Callum’s hands tightened into fists before he shook them loose. This may be his first murder investigation but he’d taken point on plenty of criminal inquiries. The Cain’s mark owner was just as relevant as the drugs. “Won’t a toxicology screen reveal the cause of the overdose?”
Since the victim wasn’t a registered addict, she was entitled to a full-blown autopsy. Wasn’t that why she was carefully shrink-wrapped before the crime scene crows loaded her into a black body bag—to preserve evidence?
Dr. Crawford peeled his gloves off as he stood. “Do you know how many drugs are on the market? It helps to know what we’re looking for.”
Fitzgerald glanced up from the interface. “And knowing what we’re looking for will confirm the dealer’s identity.”
“So, it’s true then?” Callum’s brain switched topics. “Each dealer’s batch has a unique tracer.”
“Not on the designer drugs.” Fitzgerald’s eyes narrowed. His lips clamped together as if to stop himself from betraying more secrets.
Dr. Crawford stuffed his used gloves and face shield into a disposable biohazard bag. His eyes gleamed behind the wire rim glasses. “Only those drugs we control like the generic version from reliable pharmaceutical companies. It helps to fast forward all erasure warrants.”
Fitzgerald cleared his throat, and he shoved the interface at Callum. “Do you think you can find the Cain’s marks last recorded dealer without chasing another white rabbit down a hole?”
“Yes, sir.” Callum’s balls drew up tight, and his gut sent danger signals to his brain. What was he missing?
“And stop with the sirs.” Fitzgerald released the interface.
Callum steadied the device before swiping the stylus across the screen. The Cain’s mark original owner’s identity had been scrubbed. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Was he being set up for more than a firing?
“No, s—” Callum mentally substituted sierra bravo for sir. Not that the shit bird heard either. Sweat prickled his neck as he accessed the data. At least what remained. Had his boss tried to erase it or was there another reason? “The data is corrupted.”
He dredged up his training. Tampering was only one explanation. The most common reason was natural decay after the afflicted died. Could someone have gotten the Cain’s mark from the corpse? But the DOA processed all overdoses. Meaning some fucknut was supplementing their government salary with a side income. Christ Jesus. Fitzgerald would love that, wouldn’t he?
The boss man rolled his eyes. “Do you know how to run the restore program to piece together the data, agent?”
“Yes.” Callum made a show of pressing the blue side button marked restore data. He’d investigate on his own damn time.
Time counted down. The crime scene crows loaded the body onto a gurney. Beams of light swept the room. A tech photographed the controls of the fireplace and doors, searching for fingerprints.
A bell chimed. The data popped up.
Callum waited a heartbeat more. “The last drug registered on the Cain’s mark was High as a Kite.”
Fitzgerald and the doctor exchanged a glance.
After a moment, Dr. Crawford snapped his bag shut. “That’s a hipster update to a generic drug by Stateside Pharmaceuticals.”
“When you look for the signature, check for impurities.” Fitzgerald’s lip curved in contempt. “The serpents are always cutting the generics to increase their profit, especially given that the generic prices are set by the government.”
“Will do.” Dr. Crawford set the biometric lock on his bag.
Fitzgerald faced Callum. “Who was the dealer?”
Using the stylus, Callum scrolled to the bottom of the page. “The dispensary is Life‘s a Trip, and the owner is listed as Jane Doe.”
“Right. Jane Doe.” Fitzgerald snorted and tugged the interface free. “Obviously, that’s an alias.”
The doctor secured the biohazard bag. “There’s a motive for murder. This Jane Doe could be masquerading in public as an upstanding citizen while dealing on the side.”
Callum clamped his lips together. Why would the dealer be smart enough to hide their identity from the public but leave a Cain’s mark that would lead straight back to her? He’d dealt with plenty of dealers. None had been stupid.
Fitzgerald’s fiscally-inbred features gleamed in the greenish light of the interface. “Life‘s a Trip is one of the smaller dispensaries. Well known amongst the ‘dicts and serpents.”
“See that needle.” Dr. Crawford hovered by the director and read over his shoulder. “Those rating reviews mirror what’s on Mainlining. This Jane Doe is very well connected to America’s second citizens.”
Callum knelt to pack up the unused gear he’d hauled inside. Mainlining? They’d talked of the ‘dicts hidden internet in his classes. Hell, it had been whispered about in the sandbox, but not even the company’s eggheads could crack the gateway. It had been guarded by both black and white-hatted hackers. And anyone who entered unauthorized… Well, there was a reason the gateway was called the Widow’s Web. “At least, we know this isn’t the beginning of a drugs war.”
“I wouldn’t assume any such thing, agent.” Fitzgerald would probably contradict Callum if he said the sky was blue.
Still, he might know something Callum didn’t, but Callum would bite off his tongue before he would ask why the conclusion was incorrect. He’d research on his own.
Dr. Crawford snapped his fingers and his eyes gleamed. “I got it. Life‘s a Trip is an exclusive distributor for the more potent and popular designer drugs.”
Fitzgerald turned the interface so a map appeared. Shaded areas surrounded the clear patch. “And the dispensary is in the prime location between two major chain dealers. Our analysts have predicted such a place as the perfect opening shot for drugs war.”
“Or perfect motive for framing the owner.” The word slipped past Callum’s lips before he could shut his mouth.
“This isn’t Hollywood, agent. With all the checks and balances the department has in place, framing is nearly impossible.” The director held out the interface for Callum to pack.
Nearly impossible, meant it was still possible. Callum juggled the interface then angled the Cain’s mark so it poured into the vial.
“And there’s no reason to frame her.” Dr. Crawford held out a piece of tape. “They would just squeeze her out of business by undercutting her prices, like they’ve done to the other small mom and pop dispensaries.”
No mom or pop would sell their soul to get into the drugs business. Callum wrapped the tap around the vial, sealing the chip inside, then initialed the end to maintain chain of custody. And even if some were tempted by the easy money, they’d have to give up the right to reproduce while involved with drugs, so they wouldn’t be moms or pops.
“Frame job indeed. Your file didn’t mention that you were a conspiracist.” Fitzgerald’s eyes narrowed.
Callum focused on the bag. Guess the shit bird just learned his perfect background search wasn’t perfect either. “I’m just considering all the angles.”
“You’d be well served to keep your thoughts to yourself.” Fitzgerald’s shadow fell over Callum.
The hair on Callum’s neck stood on end. Was that a threat?
Dr. Crawford cleared his throat. “Perhaps, we should save our speculations until we identify the corpse.”
“You mean you don’t recognize her?” Fitzgerald cocked an eyebrow at the doctor.
Smug bastards, both of them. Callum’s hindbrain stood up as the look lasted a couple seconds longer than necessary. Were they communicating on a frequency he couldn’t hear?
“That’s Colleen Spellman. Senator Spellman’s youngest daughter.” Fitzgerald blinked.
An envelope icon appeared on Callum’s contact lenses. The director had sent a file. It opened to reveal an image of the deceased, smiling, happy, and schmoozing with those in power.
“The senator is an anti-drugs hardliner. His re-election campaign is being challenged by the Addicts Rights Movement, and his opponent is none other than George Shoppe, the head of ARM.”
Callum stilled. He’d better learn to button it. ARM members were becoming increasingly violent in their demand for equal treatment under the law.
Dr. Crawford paled. “The opposition is going to have a field day with this information.”
Callum handed the vial with the Cain’s mark to the doctor. The Cain’s mark made no sense. George Shoppe could just serve drugs to little Ms. Spellman, video the whole thing and smear her father. But someone had given her a dead man’s mark. “What is the procedure for disposing of the Cain’s marks?”
“They’re incinerated with the bodies where they crumble to dust.” Dr. Crawford tucked the vial in his pocket and guided the gurney with the body on it out of the hotel room.
Unless someone removed them before cremation. Callum would need a tour of the coroner’s office to see if it could be done.
“Focus, agent.” Fitzgerald snapped. “Verify that this Jane Doe sold the drugs to the victim while I get her erasure warrant issued.”
“What if her records don’t verify the sale?” Time. Callum needed more time. The case stank worse than a shit can in an Afghan forward operating base.
“Then the dealer adulterated the records which is a capital offense. Either way bring your gun.” Fitzgerald bared his teeth in a predator’s smile. “First day on the job, and you’re going to chop off the head of one of Eden’s serpents. Is it everything you’ve dreamed of, agent?”
Sweat misted Callum’s skin. The bark of the gun. The squish of vulnerable flesh. The spatter of life and blowback on his soul. All of it colored his daily nightmares. Perhaps killing was the only purpose he served.